Saturday, June 28, 2014


With our long anticipated trip back to the United States rapidly approaching, I've been thinking a lot about America. I've been contemplating the things I've missed the most, the aspects of American society I can still do without. Given my limited amount of time, I've been trying to decide what are the must-dos on my East Coast bucket list. And much to my surprise, my contemplations are much more complex than I had originally thought they would be.

As sad as it might sound, the more I think about it there really isn't a whole lot that I really miss about the United States. (There, I said it). Yes there are friends that I miss but our nomadic lifestyle --and that of so many of our friends--- has made living in close proximity to friends and family virtually impossible. I haven't been able to see my family as much as I would like but thanks to Skype and my parents' willingness to travel we have kept in touch on a somewhat regular basis. As silly as it sounds I really miss good Mexican food but as a result of not being able to find it in Europe, my own Mexican cooking skills have been improving. I find myself longing for fresh Maine air, which ironically I haven't really experienced in over twenty years, but summer in Belgium is turning out to be remarkably similar to summer in Maine so my longings aren't really that bad. So I guess this list is pretty simple. But then there is the list of what I don't miss.........

It has been so long since I've really spent time in the U.S. so my first hand knowledge feels a bit dated. But simply put, I don't miss the image of America that I keep seeing and hearing about in newspapers and on television. Through my snippets of news I keep hearing about increasingly polarized politics in Washington, the separation of church and state being eroded in a way that makes me very uncomfortable (my own words and not something I've heard anyone actually say), what feels like weekly mass shootings and other horrible tragedies and a general environment where instant gratification and the idea that bigger is better regardless of the consequences reigns supreme. I know I must be missing some of the big, good news stories, but all in all what I am hearing makes me feel sad and disappointed in my own country.

Perhaps it is because I have such distance from home that I feel this way. Or maybe it is because of this very distance that I do. It is hard to not compare what I am hearing on the news to what I am seeing on a daily basis here in Belgium. Big bad Washington has always been a point of contention amongst Americans but by the sounds of it, politics has gotten so unbelievably ugly that the only thing happening in DC is mudslinging from both sides of the aisle. The ongoing stalemate and inability to pass any legislation is especially embarrassing as we as a country talk about the importance of being a democracy and the art of compromise. Are we really setting the example that others should follow? While President Obama bemoans the fact that out of 185 countries in the world, the United States is one of just three (Oman and Paupa New Guinea being the other two) that does not provide paid family leave for the birth of a child. How can we consider ourselves to be a great world power yet fail so miserably when it comes to taking care of and providing for our own people? And then there is the gun control debate. As the recent slaying of police officers in Las Vegas demonstrates, the ability to legally carry a concealed weapon in no means protects the community. Yet we refuse to regulate guns while banning that oh-so dangerous European import of Kinder Eggs out of fear of children choking on the small toys. If we as a country are so concerned about our children's safety why has it become so easy to receive waivers to not vaccinate children against deadly diseases? And then there are the global warming deniers and......well the list just goes on and on. All of these are issues that my European friends have questioned me about. And my explanations? I just find myself shaking my head in discouragement.

I know I sound a bit bitter and yes, disenchanted by my homeland. And I hate that feeling, I really do.
I'm hopeful that my trip back to the U.S. will reinvigorate me and renew my belief that America really is a great country. I'm hoping to see a perspective that I have been missing and feel renewed hope that as a country we are on the right track. And I will see that, right? I hope..........

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